The Lifesaving Surgery of Sermons

Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, seeks to help pastors cultivate disciples through articulating doctrine. 

This excerpt is adapted from Dr. Vanhoozer’s newest Mobile Education course: Theological Interpretation of Scripture in the Church.


Doctrine belongs in the body of Christ

Prescription medicine that remains in the bottle is of no use to anyone. Its healing power is released only when the body ingests or absorbs it. Though doctrine is a prescription for the health of the body, some Christians refuse to take their castor oil. . . .

Yet it is largely thanks to the doctoral work of pastor-theologians that Christian doctrine, heavenly medicine from above, gets into the bloodstream of the body of Christ. 

The pastor, as minister of the word and teacher of doctrine, is the Church’s primary care physician. Problem is, some pastors have stopped doctoring.

The purveyor of doctrine: pastor as doctor

What are pastors for? . . . 

The pastor, as shepherd of the flock and farmer of the field, should be the Church’s prime theologian, the one who promotes understanding of God and the gospel, largely by teaching disciples how to read the Bible in order to become mature in Christ. Logos Free Book of the Month Ad

The pastor-theologian is a doctor of the Church for those reasons—not a specialist academic theologian, but the primary care physician of the body of Christ, the one who looks after its day-to-day health. After all, it falls to local pastors both to diagnose what ails the body of Christ and then to administer a good dose of Christological reality—the word of God via sermon and sacrament, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper being visible words.

Academic theologians serve the Church by helping pastors to proclaim the full measure of the truth, goodness, and beauty of what is in Christ. Sermons are intrinsically theological; they must do more than entertain or communicate the how-to therapeutic wisdom of the day. In the hands of a competent pastor-theologian, the sermon is life-saving surgery on the body of Christ. 

The proclamation of God’s Word—the scalpel of the Spirit—cuts to the cultural quick, exposing the joints and marrow, the idols and ideologies, that risk infecting the Church body. 

Or to put it more positively: if the life is in the blood, then teaching the Word of God is the transfusion of Christ’s blood into the bloodstream of the church. Doctrine is for growing healthy disciples who exhibit in their own bodies, individually and corporately, the life that is in Christ.


This post is excerpted from Theological Interpretation of Scripture in the Church, taught by Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer. 

The title of this post is the addition of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.

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